By Eva LudiGuy JobbinsElizabeth CarabineCatherine SimonetPeter NewborneNathalie NatheRajeshree Sisodia and Tiina Pasanen for ODI.

Globally, semi-arid lands are home to almost one billion people and make major contributions to national economies, with the private sector playing a major role in their economic development. Yet they have long been marginalised. In this paper, the Pathways to Resilience in Semi-Arid Economies (PRISE) research project challenges some of the myths around semi-arid lands and highlights the exciting potential these regions, and the communities and economies in them, have to be agents of climate-resilient economic development.

Myth #1

Semi-arid lands (SALs) are remote, sparsely populated places, in which few people live.

FACT: The number of people living in SALs is growing rapidly SALs cover 16% of the world’s land surface and are already home to almost 1 billion people.

Myth #2

Semi-arid lands (SALs) contribute little to national economies.

FACT: SALs make a major contribution to national economies, as PRISE research on the beef, milk, and cotton sectors in semi-arid areas shows. The livestock sector and pastoralists are vital in the SALs of Kenya, Senegal and Tajikistan. In Kenya, the livestock sector contributes to around 12% of the country’s GDPiv and employs about 50% of Kenya’s agricultural workforce. The textile sector in Pakistan, which includes cotton produced in the country’s SALs, is the largest industrial sector and accounts for around 40%
of the country’s industrial labour force. Ten million farming families in Pakistan rely on the textile industry.

Myth #3

It is not possible to achieve climate-resilient economic development in semi-arid lands (SALs).

FACT: Temperatures in SALs are likely to rise above the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) global target of a 1.5°C increase, and rainfall will become more unpredictable over the next century. Strong social networks and diverse, multi-local livelihoods are already examples of autonomous adaptation to the natural variability found in the climate and environments of SALs. PRISE research shows that if these approaches could be harnessed and scaled up, there are real opportunities for inclusive, climate-resilient economic development.

Myth #4

There is very little private sector investment in semi-arid lands (SALs).

FACT: The private sector plays a key role in SALs and their economic development. Individuals, groups and small businesses in semi-arid areas engage in vibrant economic activity in key sectors, such as livestock and agricultural trade. Remittances sent back by migrants to their homes in the semiarid areas of Senegal and Tajikistan are also used to fund collective investments that benefit entire communities and economies, such as investments in solar energy.

Myth #5

Migration away from rural, semi-arid areas only creates socioeconomic problems.

FACT: Migration has the potential to create opportunities for rural people and contribute to rural development through remittances, strengthening social networks, and the transfer of technology and innovative ideas. PRISE research in Pakistan, Kenya and Burkina Faso explores the role that planned rural-to-urban migration, for example as part of national adaptation plans, can play in enhancing livelihood resilience and introducing new economic opportunities for communities in semi-arid regions, while taking climate change
into consideration.

Read the whole document here. Photo: Tim Lumley  (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)